On Anxiety

I have been putting off writing this post for so long, mostly because of its personal nature. Creating the images was much easier than thinking about the emotion behind them. But I wanted to share the process behind the “Emotions on Paper” series, and that means I need to share about myself, too.

The concept for these photographs began with the television show Supernatural, which I became addicted to during my last semester of college. In the show when demons are expelled from a body they are depicted as a cloud of black smoke streaming out of the mouth. It struck me how aptly that image – darkness pouring out of your mouth – seemed to represent the feeling of Anxiety.

I’m not the first person to think of mental illness as “dark thoughts” and I’m sure I’m not the first artist to try to depict it, either.

I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when I was 20, following my first panic attack and subsequent mental breakdown. My symptoms are manageable with medication, but they haven’t gone away entirely. There are still times when my head is full of insecurities, thoughts that whirl around so quickly that I can barely keep track of them – nobody cares about me, my friends secretly hate me, my art is terrible, I should never have started my business in the first place, I should give up now. I can feel physically sick to my stomach. Sometimes I just want to scream and let it all go flying out, sending my negativity out into the world.

With the concept for these photographs in mind, I bought white sheets of paper and black paint. Instead of screaming out my anxiety, I poured the paint onto paper, splattered it, brushed it in crazy strokes. The four resulting panels then hung on my parents’ porch to dry, much to their confusion.

After many more days of procrastination, I set out to actually take the pictures. I set up my camera on a vice to a table, adjusted the focus and aligned the frame just-so. Then it was time to get myself ready. I used black face paint around my eyes, with a little white to create a lighter grey. As for the messy hair, I turned my head upside down in the sink and got about half my hair wet. With a little shaking, the hair was perfect.

The last thing to do was to sit down in front of the camera with the timer ready and try out this modeling thing. I hoped to portray everything I feel during a panic episode. Normally I use photography to calm myself down, so it was difficult to bring myself into an uncomfortable space. I don’t think I achieved it, not exactly, but I am happy with what I came up with.

I hope to do more projects like this, and to continue to explore my mental illness through my photography, which I suppose means also being more open here.

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